The trouble with short stories is that you get caught up with the characters and the emotions, and maybe the mystery, and suddenly, the story ends. You’re disappointed, wishing that turning the page would bring more of the stuff you’d been engrossed in.

But Carol Dines’ collection of short stories manages to capture something more than reader attachment to the characters or the tease of a plot. Each of her stories in This Distance We Call Love (Orison Books) is a powerful elbow to the gut, which leaves you eager for the next situation, the next cast of characters, the next elbow.

She zeroes in on family, trust, marriage, fear, sex, loss, abandonment, and the strength and danger of a child’s imagination. 13 stories that are as different in focus as they are alike in emotional power. 

A HAUNTING AND EMOTIONAL COLLECTION OF STORIES

In “Almost,” the opening story, the hapless sister of a compassionate woman lives a life that strains the patience — the forbearance and the credulity — of everyone around her. She’s hard not to love. Her insouciance is remarkable, yet when the woman defends her sister: “She doesn’t hurt anyone,” her husband replies, “She hurts you.” 

The love triangle in “Ice Bells” is juxtaposed against a family gathering where Willa, our protagonist, is agonizing over the inhibitions of her own heart, her capacity for betrayal and her biological identity. When there is an opening, an icy escape route, she takes it, but it’s short-lived and damaging. Dines leaves her readers there, having created an ending to the story that is almost a relief.

A little girl named Grace, enrolled in a progressive school that bases the curriculum around saving rain forests and their inhabitants, takes participation in her classes a little too far, perhaps, unsettling her parents. The story is visual and clingy, the ending, like many others in the collection, abrupt and haunting. 

LEAVES READERS FEELING BOTH UNBALANCED AND EMBRACED

Dines is masterful at dancing around emotions and commitment, teasing her readers with promises of happy endings and stopping just short of them. She mines the world around her for situations that seem ordinary on the surface but, once examined, provide stories that merge together, sometimes uncomfortably. The result may leave readers unbalanced on occasion, but they’ll also feel embraced. A family buys a dog; a daughter is stalked; a husband misses the wife he resents; a child is killed; a marriage suffers.

This Distance We Call Love is a perceptively adult collection of works, yet Dines is the author of three novels and a collection of short stories for young adults, which probably accounts for the authentic characterizations of the children in this collection. They are wise, inscrutable, and sometimes catalytic. “People disappear in many ways,” says the daughter wistfully in “Disappearances.” Another daughter, disappointed in love and friendship, cleans out her locker at the tennis club where she has just lost a match, but it didn’t matter. Not anymore. “This world, too, had begun to feel small,” she decides.

Dines’ world is anything but small. This Distance We Call Love is a magnificent sweep of fine writing and unforgettable characters.

Purchase This Distance We Call Love at Magers and Quinn Bookstore here and at Orison Books here.

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Carol Dines was born in Rochester, Minnesota. Her recent collection of short stories for adults is called This Distance We Call Love and her newest novel, The Take-Over Friend, will be published in fall 2022. Carol Dines’ previous books include two novels for young adults, Best Friends Tell the Best
Lies, The Queen’s Soprano, as well as a collection of short stories, Talk to Me. In addition, she has published numerous poems and stories for adults in journals and anthologies. She is a recipient of the Judy Blume award as well as a recipient of Minnesota and Wisconsin State Artist Fellowships.

Carol received a BA from Stanford and an MA in English from Colorado State University. She has taught writing to all ages. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband, Jack Zipes, and standard poodle.